All of London knows the story of the vanished Lady Charlotte Endicott and the handsome reward that will accompany her safe return. Scores of blond-haired, blue-eyed impostors have tried their luck at Jack Endicott's casino claiming to be the girl, only to be turned away-but Queenie Dennis just might be the one.
Fate takes a turn when she returns to London posing as a dressmaker fresh from France. Queenie quickly becomes the talk of the town, catching the eye of the handsome Lord Harkness. As her love for him grows, Queenie's lies begin to catch up with her. Will Harkness call her bluff, or does love hold the winning hand?
The gunshot woke Lady Charlotte Endicott from her nap in Nanny’s arms. Now Nanny was shrieking and Mama was reaching across the carriage for Lottie. Another shot rang out, and loud, angry voices. The horses were galloping faster than Lottie had ever gone. Papa would be angry. He was an earl and everyone listened to his orders.
The coach was rocking, and then sliding, falling, tumbling, crashing down a steep cliff.
So much noise, then silence.
Lottie crawled from the debris, clutching her doll, unaware of the blood on her pinafore or the cuts on her face. Nanny’s black boots stuck out from under the roof of the broken carriage. One of the horses was standing, blowing. The others were tangled and still, but Lottie would not look at them.
Mama never answered her calls.
Then a man came scrambling down the cliff from where the road was. He was the new groom, not Neddy who’d promised to help Lottie name the pony that would be waiting for her at home at Carde Hall. Neddy’d been too sick to leave Kingston-Upon-Hull with them after Grandfather Ambeaux’s funeral.
This man was using bad words. His leg was bleeding, too, and he was limping. He looked around, then looked up and back, as if he were listening for the baggage coach that was following them. Then he saw Lottie.
“Bloody hell. The brat.”
Lottie backed away, but stumbled over one of the broken wheels. The man grabbed her by the back of her gown and picked her up, doll and all.
“Do you know my name?”
Lottie nodded. “Dennis Godfrey. Nanny told me. I’m not s’posed to stare at your gold tooth.”
“Damn and blast.” He set her down and took a pistol from his belt. “I’m going to hang for this day’s work anyway. Might as well make it harder for your papa to find me.” The pistol was empty, though. While he reloaded, Dennis Godfrey stared at the child, thinking. “A’course, your papa might pay a king’s ransom to get you back. They say Carde’s got it. And he mightn’t be so quick to send the sheriff or the militia after me, iffen your life depends on it.” He tucked the gun back in his belt and squatted on his heels in front of Lottie, letting out a groan from the pain in his injured leg. He ripped the kerchief off his neck to wrap around the bullet wound. While he tied a knot he said, “Today must be your lucky day, little lady. Uncle Dennis is going to take you with me.”
He was a servant, not a relative. Lottie shook her head. “No, I wait here for Papa.”
Godfrey slapped her.
No one had ever struck Lady Charlotte Endicott in all of her three years. The shock and pain on top of everything else was too much. Lottie forgot to be brave, the way Papa had taught her. She was just a little girl, a baby, almost, and she wanted her mother. She wanted to go home.
She started to sob.
Dennis Godfrey grabbed her shoulders and shook her. “None of that now. You’re coming with me and that’s the end of it, you hear? You play your cards right—the Earl of Carde, eh?—and you’ll be snug as a bug as soon’s I get my blunt. One sound out of you, though, one word to anyone, and you’ll never see your family again. I’ll hide you so far away no one will find you. Do you understand?”
He was still shaking her, but Lottie managed to say, “My brothers’ll find me.” Her adored older brothers always found her when they played hide-and-go-seek.
“You carry on, or you talk to anyone, or you tell my name or yours, and I’ll find your precious brothers and shoot them dead!” He gave her a last, harder shake. “Like shooting rabbits. And I’ll string them out for the vermin to find. Rats and crows and worms and—”
Lottie went limp in his arms.
“Good. Less bother this way.” Dennis Godfrey rolled Lady Charlotte in his frieze coat, tossed her over the back of the one standing horse, and fled before anyone knew of that day’s awful disaster.
To ensure the brat’s silence, Godfrey added laudanum to his threats. He got the bottle from the same filthy-handed leech who dug the coach-driver’s pistol ball from Godfrey’s leg a day later. The small-town sawbones, who acted as barber, undertaker and veterinarian, also traded a sturdy mare and saddle for the high-bred carriage horse, no questions asked.
The cutthroat turned kidnapper, who acted as groom, hired bully, and occasional highwayman, rode on toward London after sending a message back to Kingston-Upon-Hull. Dennis Godfrey took byways and back roads when he could, traveling by night when the moon lit the way, giving no answers to anyone foolish enough to inquire about his haste or his burden.
Lottie woke up in a dark, dusty, stale-smelling room. Her whimper earned her a glare and a raised hand from the bad man whose name she was not supposed to say. She cringed back against the thin mattress on the floor, hurt, hungry, nearly paralyzed with fear. He threw her a piece of hard bread and a chunk of cheese, and pointed toward a chipped bowl in the nearby corner.
“You know how to use that, brat? If you don’t, too bad. I’m not changing no nappies.”